David Collins plans to 'cherish' clash with Cuala
By John Harrington
David Collins is one of those people who radiates an easy self-confidence.
When he walks into a room there’s a positive energy about him that he quickly channels into enthusiastic conversation.
He’s buzzing even more than usual this week because there’s a big match on the horizon, and Collins has always been a big-match sort of player.
Joint-captain of the Liam Mellows team that will take on reigning champions Cuala in Saturday’s AIB All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final in Semple stadium, he just can’t wait for that ball to be thrown in.
“I'm really looking forward to it,” Collins told GAA.ie. “In 2015 we played Clare and I had rang my father in law and said, 'You better come to this one because I won't be in Thurles again after this'.
“He was like, 'What do you mean,' and I said, 'I'm finished after this year, I'm gone.' So, he was like, 'Sure I'll go down to it, so'.
“Now I'm back down there with the club and it's really a great feeling. I never thought I'd see the day I'd be playing in Thurles with Mellows.
“Really looking forward to it, I love the big games. I've been brought up with them I suppose, over the last number of years.
“It's just one I'm going to cherish, and enjoy every minute of it hopefully.”
That’s the attitude he’s taken throughout the club’s unexpected run to Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final.
They were always competitive in Galway, but never really one of the seriously big hitters, and no-one would have tipped them for county championship honours at the start of the season.
But throughout the campaign they proved they were underdogs with a bite, and the club’s first county title in 47 years has really put hurling back on the map in Galway city.
“It was incredible,” said Collins. “It was one of those scripts you couldn't write, I suppose, because we had never, okay, we had dreamed of it and wanted to win it and we always talked about winning it.
“But then when you put it out in front of us we got lucky in a few games against Clarinbridge and against Cappataggle we just scraped over the line. That taught us a lot in terms of resilience.
“But to win it then on the day was unbelievable. The old Mellows crew that were there and the crowd in the stadium that day.
“I tell you what, it was one of my proudest moments, to be honest with you.
“I got a lot out of Galway and enjoyed a lot of games, and enjoyed a lot of victories, but this one was just sweet.”
Collins played a massive role himself the club’s county championship success.
A very dominant figure at centre-back, Liam Mellows reaped the benefits of his inter-county retirement because now all his energies were channelled towards the club.
And for Collins it softened the blow of no longer being involved with Galway, because, with former Clare selector Louis Mulqueen appointed as manager, Mellows were effectively being run like an inter-county team.
“Once I was called to talk to Louis Mulqueen about him becoming our manager he was going, 'If you commit, I'll commit', kind of a job. We were going, 'Yeah, perfect',” said Collins.
“What I noticed recently in the media with players coming out and talking about their careers and literally stopping playing inter-county and then retiring altogether, I didn't really have that cushion because there was an inter-county manager in place with the club so Mellows was now at an inter-county level.
“There was no difference in training style, no difference in the demands, no difference in the actual time dedication.
“Louis really stepped it up a level and our lads responded to it. When you look at our team we have, I think, 16 of the squad with inter-county experience. So that's huge, really.
“It was no real change for me, except for training from December now all the way through to hopefully March.”
But even though his club commitments completely filled the vacuum left by inter-county retirement, Collins isn’t going to pretend he didn’t have mixed emotions when he watched Galway win last year’s All-Ireland title.
He was thrilled for his former team-mates and the county as a whole, but, naturally enough, part of him couldn’t but regret he had only just missed out on achieving a goal that had been such a huge ambition of his own for so long.
“Ah stop!”, exclaimed Collins. “I was actually working with RTE at the time, and only for that, I think I would have been tearing my hair out. Because you're looking at it going, 'awwh'.
“But I was ready to go. I had 13 years done. But you always look back and go, 'Jesus, I wonder if I trained smarter or less would I have lasted that bit longer?
“But then I look now and go, 'Right, the club benefited from it'. I was a sub at the time too (with Galway) and I'm too competitive.
“I enjoyed making the team and starting all the time and then I did two years there, under Anthony (Cunningham) and then Micheál (Donoghue), to help bring lads through.
“Look it, I left a mark on it and I was delighted to see them win it. Especially delighted they won it the year after because I knew them all and still felt a part of it. I did. I felt like I had contributed to it.
“But if it was down the road I wouldn't have known the boys and I wouldn't have had the same craic with them.
“Yeah, it was a strange year but a great year all the same for Galway hurling, especially in the city.”
He still can’t help smiling when he sees all the Liam Mellows flags flying around the city and is convinced their county title will have long term benefits for a club that has been putting huge effort into their school links and underage structures.
More hearts and minds would be won if they could beat Cuala on Saturday and make to the AIB All-Ireland Club Hurling Final on St. Patrick’s Day.
Not many people are predicting that will happen, but Mellows have already proven this year that the underdog status is one they relish.
“Cuala are reigning All-Ireland champions,” said Collins. “You look at their team and you look at the way they've played. I don't think they've been beaten in 22 games or something like that.
“But we're not going to go down to Thurles and not give it an absolute lash. We're going out there with the ambition to win it and see what happens on the day.
“We were underdogs the whole year. I think we were 27-1 at the start of the Galway championship to win it and we won that. And then went into the final at 5/2.
“Look it, the underdog tag might suit us. I think we're 9/2 for this game, so we're well outside. But, look it, what about it? It's a game of hurling at the end of the day.
“It could be lashing rain, it could be cold, it could be snowing the way things are going in Ireland. So, we'll see how it goes.”